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Celebrating a continent: Africa’s diversity evident in debut event

School District 833

A pan-African celebration drew hundreds to Park High School Thursday evening. The event was intended as a show of unity for Park's African and African-American students, their friends and families.

But the food, dancing, drumming and costumes also reflected the continent's remarkable variety.

"I don't think people understand how diverse our continent is," said 16-year-old student Nicole-Carol Ngamne. "We come in different skin tones, different languages, different food, different music. There are 350 tribes in Cameroon and Nigeria."

That much was evident when a visitor asked Ngamne and her friends about their African country of origin.

"Cameroon," Ngamne said.

"Sierra Leone," said Antonette Kamara, 16.

"Nigeria," said Elizabeth Ojo, 17.

The event was organized by District 833's Community/Cultural Liaison Greg Van Leer Jr.

"It's really about getting ahead of your traditional Black History Month in February," he said. "As a cultural liaison and being African-American, what I try to get across to students I interact with, who have an African ancestral background is, 'Understand who you are.' That's knowing your history. It's not just one time a year."

After feasting on a buffet of Ethiopian and other cuisine, visitors gathered in the auditorium for an African drum performance. The Park High School step team demonstrated the African step dancing tradition, whose performers drummed on their own bodies as they moved.

Park junior Tommalisha Edmonds sang "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," also known as the Black National Anthem. They heard remarks by keynote speaker Alex Tittle, vice president of business connect and corporate affairs for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.

District 833 has about 1,800 African-American and African students, said Kristin Schaefer, the district's educational equity coordinator.

Future events will pay tribute to other ethnicities and cultures, she added.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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